Kathmandu’s Indra Jatra Festival

Multiple visits to Nepal in the last four years but I had never yet attended one of the country’s largest festivals – Indra Jatra. I know, surprising. But a week before my planned return to India, that changed.

Indra Jatra is known as Yenya in Newari language. According to the legends, Indra – the ‘king of heavens’ descended to Kathmandu disguised as a common man in search of night jasmine flowers, known as parijat locally, for his mother. He was caught but didn’t say who he really was. His mother, looking for him anxiously, also descended to earth and revealed her and her son’s identity.

Considering it fortunate that god Indra and his mother have visited them, people – king and commoners alike – celebrated with songs, dances, feasts, and processions, known as Indra Jatra today. Before they returned to heaven, Indra’s mother gave them her blessing – and thanks to this blessing, it’s believed, Kathmandu Valley receives enough dew in winter months to help cultivate the crops.

The 8-day celebrations officially begin with a wooden pole known as lingo being erected in the Hanuman Dhoka area of Kathmandu Durbar Square. As long as the pole is erect, Indra is present in Kathmandu, it’s believed. The elephant Airavat, Indra’s vehicle, is seen desperately looking for his master.

It’s unclear how this connects to Kumari – the living goddess. This change is said to have happened during the Malla era. It’s also said this it was during this festival that King Jaya Prakash Malla himself was pulling Kumari’s chariot when Gorkha king Prithvi Narayan Shah invaded and took over Kathmandu. Shah also took Kumari’s blessing, a strategic move that helped him win over the people of Kathmandu.

Today the Indra Jatra celebrations include Kumari’s decorated chariot, along with smaller chariots of living gods Ganesh and Bhairab, being pulled around old Kathmandu. As many as 50 young girls dressed as Kumari are invited for Kumari puja (worship), many of whom attract swarm of photographers chasing them for pictures. Dance of Lakhey – a carnivorous daemon who is believed to have become protector of children later – is among the primary attractions. Beside the masked dances and chariot-pulling, animal sacrifice is also part of Indra Jatra.

Samay Baji, a traditional Newari dish is seen on display in different parts of the old town and is used for the feast. The huge mask of Swet Bhairab in Hanuman Dhoka area is opened for public viewing. Every evening, thwon, a type of rice wine, freely flows through this mask and men ‘compete’ to take a sip. The excitement is such that you would think a fight will break out soon among these ambitious men. Lately, one evening is being kept reserved for women only.

Importance of this festival is such that even the king – and now the president and prime minister – will attend the celebrations. Like many of Nepal’s other festivals, Indra Jatra brings together both Hindu and Buddhist communities harmoniously participating in festival.

This album is a collection of photographs taken during the first three days of Indra Jatra, 2021, showcasing the general atmosphere during the celebrations.

Sources:

Year: 2021

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September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A man reciting religious verses by the Swet Bhairab statue
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Photographers ask a young girl dressed as Kumari to pose for a picture
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Young girls dressed as Kumari pose for pictures in front of Kaal Bhairab
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A young girl dressed as Kumari poses for a picture for a group of photographers
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A woman lighting a lamp in front of Kaal Bhairab
September 2021, Kathmandu: Nepal: Women lighting incense sticks in front of Kaal Bhairab
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Used clay lamps
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Men play music by the Swet Bhairab statue during Indra Jatra rituals
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A woman paints a sculpture near Swet Bhairab statue minutes before the beginning of Indra Jatra rituals
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A chicken sacrificed during Indra Jatra rituals is placed near a sculpture of a deity near Swet Bhairab mask
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A man arranges a sacrificed goat’s head in front of Swet Bhairab mask
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Children in tears as they observe a buffalo being sacrificed during Indra Jatra festival
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A woman continues painting a sculpture as Indra Jatra rituals continue
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A woman lighting up an incense stick
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A man relaxing on one of the chariots used in Indra Jatra procession
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A girl catching a flower thrown from a chariot used in Indra Jatra processions
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Kumari’s chariot in which she is taken around old Kathmandu during Indra Jatra procession
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Details on Kumari’s chariot depicting peacocks
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A man holds a burning lamp as Kumari is to be taken to her palace in a palanquin
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Kathmandu’s Kumari in a palanquin during Indra Jatra celebrations
September 2021, Kathmandu: A woman sitting by the Swet Bhairab statue that has been opened for worship during the Indra Jatra festival
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Young boys performing a dance using sticks during Indra Jatra celebration
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A masked man performs a dance during Indra Jatra celebrations
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A masked man performs a dance during Indra Jatra celebrations
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A masked man performs a dance during Indra Jatra celebrations
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Performers help each other remove their masks after the end of their performance
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Groups of men attempt to drink rice wine flowing through Swet Bhairab’s mouth
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Samay Baji – a traditional Newari dish on display in a neighbourhood during Indra Jatra festival
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A Nepali army police officer observing the surrounding before the commencement of the chariot procession
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Carpet vendors make their way through the crowd as the chariot procession is about to begin
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Bidya Devi Bhandari – the president of Nepal and Sher Bahadur Deuba – the prime minister of Nepal, observe the Indra Jatra procession from Gaddi Baithak palace in Kathmandu Durbar Square
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Police personnel holding hands to form a human chain in an attempt to maintain a safe distance between participants and chariots during Indra Jatra procession
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: People observe the Indra Jatra procession from a temple under renovation
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: An Akash Bhairab mask placed along the route of the chariot procession
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: An elderly woman observes the Indra Jatra procession
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Nepali police personnel during the chariot procession
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A woman observes the chariot procession during Indra Jatra
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Women at a temple observe as the chariots pass by during Indra Jatra
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Devotees trying to catch blessed flowers and leaves thrown by men during Indra Jatra festival
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A woman lighing up oil lamps
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Girls selling balloons inside Durbar Square complex during Indra Jatra celebrations
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A man dressed as Akash Bhairab on his way to perform a dance
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A woman lighting up a wick
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: People play music and dance inside the Durbar Square complex during Indra Jatra celebrations
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A woman praying in front of the Kaal Bhairav statue during Indra Jatra celebrations
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A man burning clay lamps in front of the Kal Bhairab statue inside the Durbar Square complex
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A decorated statue of Akash Bhairab in a neighbourhood along the route of Indra Jatra processions
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A masked man dances as Kumari’s chariot approaches the neighbourhood
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: A performer is helped leave the stage after the end of his performance
September 2021, Kathmandu, Nepal: Masked dance performance carries on as it begins to rain